I mentioned I met Craig in my last post about Cambodia and how we spent an amazing time together in Kampot, but what I didn’t mention is that I asked him to join me in Myanmar and luckily for me, he agreed! He was on his way to Vietnam, which is completely the opposite direction of which I was traveling. I semi-jokingly asked him to change his plans – I didn’t think he’d actually come but I’m so thankful he did because we’re still together today and have experienced so much together in the past 8 months. It’s crazy how one spontaneous decision to go back to Cambodia instead of Laos changed my life.
So after we split up in Cambodia for a few days, we met up again in Thailand and continued on to take the bus into Myanmar. It was a lot cheaper than taking the plane but obviously takes much more time. We just weren’t fully prepared for how much time it was actually going to take. We went from Koh Chang to Bangkok, spent a night there, and then made our way over to the border at Mae Sot. We were dropped off around 3 in the morning with a bus filled with Thai and Burmese travelers and two German travelers, Andreas and Jurgen. We quickly became friends with them and ended up following each other throughout Myanmar. When the border opened at 8 in the morning we finally made our way across and were greeted by a nice local who helped us get a bus to Yangon. We made the mistake of asking the bus driver how long the bus was going to take. DO NOT do this when you go to Myanmar. They’re a very superstitious country and believe that asking this lures bad spirits into the bus and brings bad luck to the journey. They will always give you an incorrect timeline or simply ignore your question. We were told it was going to be 6 hours and didn’t have internet to check the actual distance. You know when you’re told a certain time and prepare yourself for the journey? Well that’s exactly what we did with the 6 hour journey only to get increasingly frustrated when the ride would be an hour, two hours, four hours and then finally SIX HOURS LONGER than what was promised! When we finally arrived at our guesthouse we were rewarded with a view of Sule Pagoda at night. It shined a magnificent gold light into the entire guesthouse and it really set the tone for the rest of Myanmar.
We only spent two days in Yangon and celebrated Chinese New Year there. The streets were filled with happy locals giving away free food and beverages and introducing Burmese culture to passerbys. The next day the four of us headed off to Ngwesaung, a local quaint beach town on the west coast of Myanmar. Craig got food poisoning on the bus ride (#weaksauce) so he had a super, super rough ride. I’ve personally never had food poisoning during my travels which I’m very grateful for because I can only imagine how shitty it must feel to be completely sick in a country where you don’t feel clean and defintely cannot clean yourself immediately. We arrived in Ngwesaung at 4am and were greeted by different motorbike taxi drivers trying to give us a lift to a hotel to get commision. We were in no mood to speak to them, which we never are after a long bus ride, so we walked to the closest beach, took out our sleeping bags and passed out to the refreshing sound of waves crashing the shoreline. The sound of children laughing woke me up. I remember sitting up, still in my sleepy dazed state staring at the people passing me by. There were women and men walking down the beach trying to sell hats made of leaves and children following them around. There were families riding bicycles down to the other end of the beach where there was a pagoda on the sand. There were children with their mothers playing in the water, splashing around and laughing. And then there were the four of us, still tucked in our sleeping bags, getting curious stares left and right. It was the first time in Asia where we were the only non-locals and for the first time I really felt like I was traveling off the beaten path.
The beaches weren’t spectacular like they were in Thailand or Cambodia. The water was dark and murky. The sand wasn’t particularly beautiful. But the vibe was completely different from what I’ve ever experienced before. I really felt like an outsider intruding on local territory. But it wasn’t in a negative way where I felt uninvited or any hostility towards me. I just genuinely felt like everyone was curious what we were doing there and wanted to learn more about us. Not many people spoke English here but the ones that could had so many questions to ask us and wanted to learn as much as they could about where we were from. It was a similar experience to Vietnam. I learned that the less touristic a place is, the kinder the people are. Of all the countries I’ve visited I can 100% say that the people of Myanmar are the best people I’ve ever met in my entire life. There may have been people I’ve met in other countries that I connected with more, sure. But what I mean is that the people there were just good hearted, kind and generous people who were always ready to give a helping hand and offer any assistance they could. It makes the situation they’re going through now even more sad than it already is. If you haven’t heard about the outbreak of violence that’s going on there right now, educate yourself!
Traveling throughout Myanmar was not easy like it was in the rest of SE Asia and that made it even more special for me. I heard that this country was much less traveled than the rest of Asia but I honestly did not really believe it until I had to manuver my way through the country with Craig. We were misinformed about so many bus times, train durations and even missed a connection. It was a struggle to get anywhere and at times it was very frustrating but we made it to each destination which is what matters anyway. Bagan was the next city we went to. If there’s one city in Myanmar you’ve probably heard of, it’s Bagan. This is the city that currently has 2200 temples located all around. There used to be 10,000 temples but only 2200 of them remain. This is one of the few cities in Myanmar that’s very touristic – it makes sense, there’s a lot of money to be made here. You have to pay a tourist fee when you get off the bus or train but since we took a taxi in with Burmese friends we made on the train ride, we didn’t have to pay. Yay! Small wins. We stayed here for 5 days, which is 2 more days than we intended, but honestly 3 days is enough here. We got so templed out, I think we’re good on temples for the rest of our lives. However, the first day was seriously incredible. There are so many temples here that it’s easy to find your own temple for sunrise or sunset but most people only go to common ones that everyone knows about. We were lucky enough to talk to some people who have lived there for a while and recommended us a temple that you’re allowed to walk inside and climb up through the stairs. So many temples are restricted now because of the earthquakes that made them unsteady. We set out at 5:30 am and got to the temple at 6:30, climbed to the top and waited for the sun to appear. I wasn’t expecting it to be any different from any other sunrise but WOW it was seriously the best sunrise I have ever seen in my life. My photos won’t even begin to show how beautiful it was. Our temple was situated in a spot that allowed us to see all the hot air balloons rising up and flying in the sky right before the massive red sun appeared over the horizon shining over Bagan.
We heard about a trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake which I was really interested in. It’s a 50 mile trek in the span of 2 or 3 days and was my first multiple day trek. We chose the two day hike because we simply didn’t have enough time for three. We walked for 9 hours the first day, slept in a monk monastery and then walked another 6 hours the second day. It wasn’t a difficult hike – it was mostly just walking! The views were incredible and the trek ended with a relaxing boat ride through Inle Lake where we saw the local fishermen and performing their fishing tricks on their boats. I couldn’t enjoy Inle Lake as much as I would have liked to since we were so exhausted from all the walking we didn’t explore the city and then had to leave the next day for Mandalay, where Craig and I would fly back to Thailand and split ways for 3 months.
Our trip in Myanmar was only a short 3 weeks and it was not long enough to see the entire country but I’m thankful for all that I did see and I’m really thankful that I got to see it with my best travel buddy, Craig. They say you know you’re a good couple if you’re able to travel together and I completely agree with that. It’s been 8 months with this guy and I’m not sick of him yet so, you know, I guess that’s a good sign.